Highland hosts robotics tournament

By Gretchen Teske,The JOURNAL


RIVERSIDE ? Highland Elementary was overtaken by robots on Saturday as they hosted an offseason event for nine area robotics teams to compete. The high-schoolers all had to create the robots from scratch and program them to complete a game predetermined for them.

The tournament was sponsored by For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) and is one of many in Iowa. The regular robotics season runs from September through February, but Saturday?s event was played in the offseason to allow students a chance to get together and test their robots.

The playing field was a 12x12 foot square with one robot in each corner. Two teams each provide two robots and the two battle against each other to complete the challenge. The challenge changes every year and the students are notified at the beginning of the season what it is. Last year, the challenge was to build a robot that could carry a bowling ball. This year, it was to build one that could stack cubes in a designated area.

Each round lasts two minutes and 30 seconds with the first 30 seconds being autonomous, meaning the students must program the robots to run on their own. After 30 seconds, players are able to pick up their controllers and take control once again.

FIRST began in 2009 with two teams and has quickly grown to over 200 in the state of Iowa. Up to 15 members are allowed on the team at once but teams can be as small as one. Nine teams made it to the tournament on Saturday.

Becca Whitaker, FIRST tech-challenge coordinator, said allowing a chance for students to get involved in a different kind of sport is highly beneficial to them socially and emotionally. ?A lot of these kids, they get so many more life lessons through this program,? she said.

The motto for the program is gracious professionalism, which Whitaker says is the most important lesson for the students to learn. ?Gracious professionalism is not only do you want to do well, but you want your opponent to do well,? she says.

Dean Kamin, the founder of FIRST, is quoted as saying, ?This is a sport where every kid can turn pro.? Athletic ability is not measured, but intellect and sportsmanship are.

?It is really a sport of the mind,? Whitaker said.

Tim Surine, coach of the Highland Finger Titans, says most of the kids competing for Highland have the ability to take robotics as a class and work on their robots together in school. As a science teacher, Surine says the most rewarding part is hearing kids be enthusiastic about wanting to work outside of the classroom. ?I don?t have a lot of classes where kids say, ?Hey can we get together during the summer?? he says. ?With this, I think they would be there every day if they could.?

Surine says many know each other from competition and this offseason event allows them a chance to get together. Joe DeMaria, coach of the Kirkwood/Washington Eagle Bots says the sportsmanship is his favorite part. His team forgot their safety glasses and another let them borrow extras. Their team is made up of high school kids from Washington, Keota and even Highland.

He says the skills they learn in tournaments are ones they can directly translate into the workforce. ?They?re learning marketing, soft-skills, communication and cooperation,? he said. ?This program really pushes cooperation.?